Iran says UK’s diplomatic protection for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘against international law’

Iran has responded to Britain’s decision to grant Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, calling it illegal.

The charity worker, who is serving a prison sentence in Tehran for “espionage”, was yesterday extended the protection – the first such time in the UK’s recent history – in a fresh attempt to secure her release.

Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, tweeted in response that the Government’s exceptional decision “contravened international law”.

“Governments may only exercise such protection for own nationals,” he said. “As the UK government is acutely aware, Iran does not recognise dual nationality. Irrespective of UK residency, Ms Zaghari thus remains Iranian (sic).”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian national who had been living in London with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella, was arrested during a family visit to Tehran in 2016.

The issue of citizenship has created an impasse between the two countries and has meant Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been denied British consular help.

The move could give ammunition to hardliners in Iran, who have always claimed she was spying for the British government. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, who had been working with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has always denied all allegations against her.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe timeline

However, her husband Richard Ratcliffe said he had pushed for the move as they had exhausted all other avenues.

“Two foreign secretaries have been out to try to solve her case, an ambassador has been summoned, and plenty of promises have been made but not delivered on," he told The Telegraph. "Particularly the continuing lack of health treatment. So it is time to signal enough is enough.”

The protection means her case will now be treated as a formal, legal dispute between the two states involved. It will also give the UK new ways of raising her case in international forums like the United Nations.

Asked about Iran’s allegation that the UK had broken international law, Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary, said he "would expect some sort of negative reaction" from the country.

He defended the move, saying it was unlikely to be a "magic wand" to get her released but was an "important diplomatic step".

"It’s difficult to know exactly what the impact will be,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “But we do want the world to know the UK will not stand by while its citizens are unjustly treated."

The UK’s decision came as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed on Thursday former presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi as head of the Iranian judiciary, which has been behind Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest and conviction.

The hardliner cleric – a protegee of Khamenei’s – is known for his role in overseeing the execution of political prisoners in the late 1980s.

But the move also presents Mohammed Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister, with a major test of his authority in light of his recent resignation and change of mind.

It was reported that Mr Zarif, seen as a moderate who has favoured outreach to the West, had resigned in anger at being excluded from meetings with Syria’s president, who was visiting Tehran.

Since returning to government last week he has said that his department must from now on have the final say on all Iran’s foreign relations matters.

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